Getting to know you: Paul Fisher, the ‘undercover boss’ of Jockey Club Racecourses

What do you currently do?
I am Chief Operating Officer of Jockey Club Racecourses, the largest racecourse group in British horseracing. My role means I’m responsible for the performance of 14 of the UK’s leading venues, including Aintree, Cheltenham, Epsom Downs and Newmarket.
The turnover of our business is £150m from hosting a quarter of all horseracing in Britain, as well as a major programme of conferences and events and we see 6million racegoers a year and employ, directly and indirectly 100,000 people.
Who is your inspiration in business?
Strong leaders. I’m motivated by people with conviction who will stand up and make big decisions. You have to put Sir Richard Branson into that category. He went for it and showed us the ultimate use of a brand.
 
Whom do you admire?
The self-made person who started out with very little. People who rolled the dice and went for it. Lord Sugar is a famous example, but there’s lots of people running very successful small businesses as well as large corporations.
 
Looking back are there things you would have done differently?
I’d have taken more calculated risks earlier in my career. Young people in their 20s who are full of energy and ideas often just conform. They should be going for it and not holding back. I think all schools should be encouraging children to be more entrepreneurial in their thinking.
What defines your way of doing business?
I’m a big believer in partnership when doing business. A business arrangement has to work for all parties for it to be successful and have longevity. If everyone wins rather than one party taking too much then you have a sustainable relationship.
What advice would you give (to people in business)?
It’s an old saying but a good one: treat people as you would want to be treated. That applies to the management of a company and the people within it, as well as the image you want to portray externally.
How did you appearing on  Channel 4’s Undercover Boss come about?
The production company approached us, following a successful racecourse group boss in the US version of the show taking part with great success. 
Did you learn much from the experience
I joined the Jockey Club Racecourses ten years ago directly from United Racecourses as the groups Financial Director and have never worked behind a bar, laid tables or as a groundsman.
Recently i have had to be responsible from reducing our overall staff numbers by ten per cent as a direct response to the recession and getting out of our head office and spending the three weeks with our staff across our 14 racecourses ‘as one of them’ i learnt so much from the experience. 
Did you worry about being recognised as to who you really are within the organisation?
Yes, and we had to bring a few senior managers into our confidence to ensure that i could carry out the roles. I am actually rumbled, which you will see in the programme, but the fact that myself and head office staff are largely anonymous to the bulk of our staff is an embarrassment to us and one thing that i have tried to address to ensure that ‘we’ are a combined workforce, not a ‘them’ and ‘us’.
Did you identify things that you’d change having carried them out first hand?
Yes I have immediately made changes to our internal communications processes to better inform our staff and also ahead of this years Grand National at Aintree, we brought in all 1200 waiting and bar staff, many of whom are only at this course on large race days, to give them a full familiarisation and training day.
I know from the feedback we received on Grand National day it immediately made our customer experience better and if customers have a better experience they go away happier and possibly spend more over the bar!
Is ‘going back to the floor’ an experience you would recommend?
Absolutely! The truth is, i would not have done this had we not been prompted and invited to take part in the series by the production company, but it was an amazingly emotional and insightful experience that i have now made the process part of our management process.
Every year all of our 14 racecourse MD’s will spend a few days working within the business being the bars, waiting tables and out with the groundskeepers.
That way our management will be better informed and the judgements we make for the good of the business will be better informed. I would do it again and i urge any boss of a large company to not wait to get a call from Channel 4 but do it today.
Paul Fisher’s ‘Undercover Boss’ will be screened tonight, August 5th, Channel 4 at 9pm

About Business Matters

Business Matters staff